Welcome to Zenitude’s blog where you can follow us while we travel slow in our Lagoon catamaran. We update this blog frequently when we are cruising to let family and friends know where we are. Check the complete story of our adventures that started in 2006 when Zenitude became our home and cruising our way of life. Graciela and Oscar

Sunday, 23 July 2017

New engines installed and Zenitude is back on the water

This year Oscar has been busy with many projects to give Zenitude a series of improvements as she turned 14 years old recently. The main one of course being the new more powerful engines as explained in my previous blog. It took a bit longer than planned but finally Zenitude is back on the water. A successful sea trial (actually it was more like a ‘Coomera River’ trial) showed improved horsepower and noticeable less engine noise, which is a plus for anyone on board when the engines are running. 

Euromarine team at work
The new engines behave pretty well up and down the river. It remains to be seen how Zenitude will perform at sea, we’ll find out in about a month or two when we set off to sail up the Queensland coast. We are thankful to Warren and the Euromarine team that did a great job and very importantly, kept to budget. If you are around the Gold Coast and need Volvo work, do not hesitate to contact them.

In the meantime it is going to be hectic for the next 3 weeks when we leave our land life in Sydney and move back on board, and it will get worse before it gets better. We estimate at least another 2 to 3 weeks of hard work before we can leave the docks.  All of that is coming up soon after I manage to put it all together in pictures and words. 


Saturday, 29 April 2017

Zenitude prevails and she gets repowered

In 2006 we sold our home, bought Zenitude and moved on board. At that time Zenitude was just 3 years old, soon she will be 14. Since then we have sailed over 30,000 miles and enjoyed our cruising life immensely. We find the sailing enjoyable when everything goes well on a perfect day, on one of those days when you set up your sails and just go where you want to go without having to change sails twice per hour, but it has always been the 'getting there' and not the 'sailing there' that makes us happy. This is what defines us as 'cruisers' and not as 'sailors' but despite of all the ups and downs, we love this cruising life.   

Before we bought Zenitude, we were actually looking for a long-range trawler. At the time, we were living in the US East coast and after spending about a year researching and looking for the right boat we could not find anything that was right for us at a price we could afford. At some point, our friend John came to our rescue by suggesting we should take a serious look at sailing catamarans. At this proposition, we replied horrified that we always had motor boats and had no idea how to handle sails. No matter, he said, I will teach you and besides a catamaran has two engines suitable for going in trawler mode and on top of that, he went on, you have sails for getting you as far as you want to go. It was a good argument and you can read all about this story here. Almost 100% convinced we went on a search for our sailing catamaran and when we found Zenitude, we knew she was the one. Since then, never for a moment we regretted our decision.

Cruising with Zenitude

At anchor somewhere

Eleven years and all those miles later, we find ourselves with a dilemma, we are getting old. The stamina is not always there, we are avoiding long trips, we are lazy when it comes to handling sails, especially the big main and we are trying to avoid overnights. About a year ago, we started thinking and pondering if we should switch back to the trawler/motor cat idea, less work and more speed. We even pretended we were in the market and got to see some boats that could be affordable. Our shopping tour did not last too long, anything we saw looked like a big demotion of our cruising life.

The problem, as it turns out, is we are in love with Zenitude and by now, as Oscar puts it, we know every single screw she has. Selling Zenitude did not feel right and it seemed like a too drastic measure.

After a lot of thinking and research we started looking at our dilemma from a different angle. What if we re-power Zenitude, give her two new engines a bit more powerful, change her propellers for better and more efficient ones and treat her as a power cat when we do not feel like handling sails.
This ‘what-if’ scenario started looking like a good idea. Serious costing considerations came next. Negotiations for new Volvo Penta MD 40’s and their installation proved affordable if we could sell our old Volvo Penta MD-30 engines, which we did and sooner than expected our 2 engines went to another cat in need. Now our two new engines are waiting for installation in May and Oscar is busy preparing the engine ‘rooms’ to receive two shiny new engines.

Port engine 'room' ready

We think these changes will better suit our new (older age) cruising life style. Gone are the long ocean passages, instead coastal cruising in warm Queensland is our current pattern. If we change our minds, Zenitude is still with us to take us as far as we want to go.

At the yard in Gold Coast City Marina, ready for the new engines

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Our short 2016 sailing season - Long overdue summary

I felt there was not much to report this past year as we planned to stay around Whitsundays and we've done this before. In retrospective I regret not having my notes as there is always new places and experiences that by now are somehow forgotten. Anyway, not all is lost and here are some highlights of our sailing in 2016.

Around the Whitsundays

We left Mackay last May as planned and spent two lovely months sailing around the Whitsundays and visiting lots of places, always hoping for a nice weather window to go to one of the coral reefs nearby.

Eventually we got a window of settled weather and we left towards Hook and Bait reefs. There were a couple of boats in Hook but mainly we were all by ourselves. Visibility was good for snorkeling and it was calm at night. We went to Bait Reef next and it was unusual to arrive at the lagoon and find it totally empty, all  the moorings available, not even one of the daily tour boats was there.

Tides going down exposing coral heads at Hook Reef 

Nightfall at Bait Reef
Strangely enough for this time of the year, the wind turned NE and there was a small swell making its way inside the lagoon thru the cut so we had a rolly night at the mooring. Next day didn't look too good, visibility at the reef was poor with the north easterlies, I guess this was the reason nobody else was there. Wishing that the weather was not so unpredictable we left the reef and turned back to the islands.

Towards the end of May we had Joan and Jan visiting which was great. Whitsundays is the perfect place to receive friends, they can easily fly to Hamilton Island where there is a very good marina to wait for visitors with its location at walking distance from the airport. There are many places to visit within a short sail and always an anchorage for each weather condition.

With Joan and Jan

The other visitors

This time the weather behaved and even with their short visit we were able to stay at some of the nicest places around  Hook and Whitsunday Islands, like Langford Island and Butterfly Bay, great places for snorkeling. We also stopped at a couple of other small islands, spent a day at the very famous and amazing Whiteheaven Beach and then it was time to sail back to Hamilton marina for their flight to Sydney.

Around the Whitsundays with friends

Testing new gear

Manson Supreme - The new anchor 

When we left Mackay in May our first stop was lovely Thomas Island where we anchored for the night anxious to test the new anchor. The Manson Supreme has a great reputation for no dragging once is set with the correct chain scope and the weather was settled so we were really not too concerned. At least Oscar wasn't.

Manson Supreme ready to replace old anchor

Since that first stop we've anchored quite a number of times and I'm happy to say we've been sleeping very relaxed with this anchor. It took us a bit to get used to set it right and we had to slightly change our anchoring technique as this anchor seems to require a slow and constant backing movement with a scope of about three times the depth, it slowly buries in the bottom until it stops the boat, then the rest of chain needed for the conditions is released.

There is a problem though, this anchor design is very different from our previous Danforth and we haven't been able to store it tight in the bow roller, except by tightening the chain in the windlass, something we are not keen to have as a permanent solution, so in the 'things to do' list there is a new project to tackle this problem.

The new super-light dinghy - Zeni III

Zeni I, our first dinghy came with Zenitude when we bought her. This dinghy gave up on us after a good use around the Caribbean and when we arrived in Venezuela we bought a brand new Caribe, Zeni II. She stayed with us until last year giving us 8 years of good service. She was still in quite good shape but we decided to replace her for a lighter new dinghy.

We bought an AB inflatable with aluminium hull and we put her to a good test this time around the Whitsundays. We had to get used at a lighter dinghy with less stability than our heavier one but still we found she runs quite well and is definitely much easier on our backs when pushing her up the beach. We've added a portable ladder to make it easier to climb up into the dinghy when swimming in deep waters.

Zeni III, the new tender to Zenitude

Oscar testing the new dinghy

Time to go back

Before the end of June it was time to get back to Mackay marina and leave Zenitude very tightly tied up while we went into our extended overseas trip. We were away for almost three months and by the end of September we were back in Mackay, getting ready to take Zenitude south to the Gold Coast for the summer. 

After a week at the marina and a lot of pondering about the weather to start our trip south we decided to leave and had a good 3 days window to reach Keppel Bay marina           in Rosslyn Bay, before the arrival of a southerly change.  The good thing about sailing during this time of the year is that there are almost 14 daylight hours, which allowed us to make the trip without sailing at night. Our overnight stops were Digby Is., Hexham Is. and Pearl Bay.

It took us a week in Rosslyn Bay to get another couple of good days to keep going. This was no problem as we love this area and the marina is great.  At this point in the trip we started to spot whales every now and then but as we approached Fraser Island and entered Hervey Bay we could see them almost every time we look at sea. They are quite a sight, but we feel uneasy when they get too close, they are just too big and we can only hope they get out of the way as we pass next to them. 

We've been in Hervey Bay many times and never stopped at Platypus Bay, so this time rather than going to Bundaberg we sailed down next to Fraser Island and spent the night in Platypus Bay. Next stop was Gary's Anchorage. Following day we left at first light to make it to Wide Bay Bar at a good time for the bar crossing. The early morning was good and the crossing was uneventful. Later on the day we heard in the radio that conditions had deteriorated quickly, so we did well. As we were exiting the bar, a couple of whales were crossing alongside just about 100 meters to our port side, the whales on one side and the sand bar on the other side made for some excitement moments we would have happily missed.

Sunset at Gary's Anchorage

Our next stop was Mooloolaba, we entered the canal as the sun was going down and by the time we arrived at the marina it was completely dark. The marina staff was gone by then but they had arranged for the people in one of the boats to help us with the lines, as we approached trying to find our spot in the docks a cheerful committee of very nice people were waiting for us and soon after we were happily docked. 

Our friends Eduardo and Sonia live in Mooloolaba and we met them and the kids for lunch. It was great to catch up once again. Not long ago Eduardo bought a sailboat and here is a picture of the family passing by the marina.

Eduardo and Sonia with kids below deck

Another good window and three days later we were arriving at Gold Coast City marina where we plan to stay, at least until the end of cyclone season in May 2017.  Until then there is lots of work as we have many projects on the pipeline to keep Zenitude looking good and behaving safely.

Link to all photos for this trip: Cruising Mackay to Gold Coast Album


Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Back on board – Plans for 2016

We are back. It was easy enough, last November, to move from Zenitude to an apartment in Sydney where we spent the summer working. It is a different story to come back to our life on board. We thought we had a small list of things to do before leaving the marina in Mackay. It is not working exactly like that.  
Beautiful Mackay Marina

Plans were optimistic; the idea was to do it all in about 3 days. Put sails, bimini and wind generator back in place, install the new anchor and do all the normal things like provisioning, get cooking gas, diesel, water, laundry, etc. Of course, check the engines and discover water coming in from a loose hose connection, so re-do the raw water pump connections. Unpack. Get Zenitude cleaned, inside and outside after 6 months on the yard collecting dust. 

The Jib, ready to be put in place

The new anchor. Will it fit in the old anchors' place?

It was never going to be less than a week. Three days and counting, trying to see if we can leave next Friday. The weather looks promising so we hope to be ready. One important thing we forgot, after 6 months of city life, our bodies were not exactly ready for the non-stop physical activity. We have to take it easy and there is really no rush.  

This year our sailing plans are very simple. We are spending two months around Whitsundays, with every weather opportunity to explore the reef around. We plan to be back in Mackay sometime in June as we are taking an extended land trip in Europe. Back from Europe sometime in September, our thinking is to sail down the coast to the Gold Coast, but this is a decision for later. In the meantime, we are ready to enjoy easy island hoping sailing.


Sunday, 3 January 2016

The end of 2015 - Zenitude out of the water

This year we chose to leave Zenitude in the yard in Mackay tightly tied to the ground as this area is not cyclone free. She is well prepared to face the weather but we surely hope nothing drastic will happen there.

We are back in Sydney until end of April, on our usual working life while waiting for cyclone season to end, plans for future travels on the making.

Out of the water in Mackay

Six of these hold her to the ground



Thursday, 5 November 2015

Lizard Island to Mackay – Leaving the Queensland Far North Behind

It was just after sunrise when we raised anchor. Watson Bay was already looking empty as many boats had left by now and were underway a bit ahead of us. Even with a promising weather forecast, many of us did not have a certain destination, waiting to see how the weather conditions unfolded before deciding how far south we could get. 

We couldn't have hoped for better conditions, it was a great sail day with our course south and light ESE winds. Just before sunset, we reached Hope Islands. There was still enough light to enter and spend the night there and we could hear the chat in VHF with most of the boats that left Lizard that morning stopping there.  Without hesitation, we decided to keep going and take advantage of the very mild conditions that usually do not last very long around this area. By sunset the wind had died, which was fantastic as now our course was SSE. Zenitude became a trawler with no sails happily motoring thru the night.

We made it all the way to Russel Island arriving at noon the following day.  It is a fantastic place if you can grab a mooring and the snorkel is superb. There was nobody there. The forecast confirmed we’ve done a good decision, the SE winds were starting to pick up again north of us, while very calm weather would stay with us as we kept going south.

Next morning we left with the sunrise at 5.00 AM and by 1.30 PM were reaching Dunk Island. At this point fresh supplies on board were low and having heard from other yachties that it was possible to anchor at Mission Beach and walk to a Woolies nearby,  we decided to try it.  There is also a Caltex petrol station, which was perfect to restock on diesel. Google Earth helped us find a good spot to anchor, with the petrol station and the supermarket just about two blocks from the beach.

Anchor Waypoint 17 54.1340 S 146 05.9580 E - Careful with the tides!
Mission Beach is exposed to ENE winds but it was calm at the time. Down went the dinghy loaded with empty fuel jerry cans and we landed in the beach. It is a wide flat beach with firm sand but the tides are quite big so you need to be aware of this when you anchor as well as where you leave the dinghy.

Mission Beach - Gone shopping -  Dunk Island behind
In any case we did not leave the dinghy unattended and poor Oscar did all the shopping while I enjoyed a quiet time along the beach. I spoke with some locals who told me it is quite common to see boaties do this and you can leave your dinghy and shopping unattended as there hasn’t been any problems in the area. Nevertheless, I stayed around and enjoyed the resting time. Two hours later shopping was done and the dinghy was super loaded with all the shopping and the heavy jerry cans (5 of 20 liters each).

By now we were running against time as a north easterly wind had decided to start picking up. The result was a not so friendly swell invading the beach. Looking at the loaded dinghy and the waves coming in and starting to break, raised some concern, to say the least. Somehow we managed, somehow we put the loaded dinghy in the water, turn it around, Oscar turned the engine on quickly with me holding the dinghy in position and somehow I managed to jump in at the right time. This is something to consider before you go shopping. You can get in big trouble with tides and wind and you have to be ready to leave at short notice before conditions get ugly.

Zenitude was jumping up and down at her anchor and unloading the dinghy was another big task. We finished completely soaked but the food was safe and the fuel stored on deck. The holding there is excellent but we happily raised anchor and crossed to Dunk Island were we finally could relax.  

The next day being Sunday we decided to have a rest from our travels and go for lunch on the beach at the Sunset Bar to enjoy once again their super fresh prawns dish.

Prawns and Coronas for lunch

The Sunset Bar at Dunk Island

After a splendid Sunday we raised anchor next morning before sunrise and reached Orpheus in the Palm Islands early afternoon. All the Pioneer Bay moorings were taken so we kept going down to Juno Bay where we anchored for the night. The bottom there is coral ruble and the anchor took a while to set. It was a fantastic quiet full moon night. The weather kept holding well and so far the feared trip south was going quite smoothly, a great thing if you don't mind all the motoring.

 Full moon and all quiet in Juno Bay
Next day was an excellent run as Zenitude motor sailed in light winds. Taking advantage of a favorable current in the Whitsundays we made it all the way to Shaw Island to anchor in Billbob Bay, a place we haven't been before. It is protected from the NE and the night was completely motionless, which was a good thing as the anchor here was hard to set, the guide says there is a sand bottom but the anchor noise dragging at the bottom indicated a kind of coral rubble again.

We were in luck with the time of the tides for the final leg and arrived next day at Mackay marina with the wind starting to pick up. It was a good sail again and by noon we were securely tied at the docks. Our sailing season ended in a great way and now it was time to get ready for another working season.

Zenitude will stay out of the water securely tied to the ground waiting for the end of the cyclone season in April. Plans for next year on the making.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Lizard Island – Magic blowing in the wind

We planned for a long stay in Lizard with the intention of exploring the area around, especially the outer reef which is so close that can be reached in a few hours. We were prepared to spend the windy days in Lizard and the calm days around the reef. The problem was, there were no calm days, it blew and blew constantly, 20 to 25 knots, with the exception of one week when it blew constantly 25 to 30 knots. At the end of our stay the wind started to calm down a bit but then it was time to take that window and head south as we were not prepared for possibly another long wait for the next window.

Nevertheless the island is fantastic, there are lots of places with good snorkeling, great beaches with clear turquoise water, enough tracks for good walks with amazing views and a good social life among the many cruising boats, some of them spending 6 months a year, for years, in this magic island. 

Life in Lizard 

The gatherings at 5.00 PM in Watson Bay

The sunsets at Watson Bay
The giant clams
The outstanding beaches
The walking tracks
The lizards of Lizard

Unfortunately there has been extensive damage in the island and in the reef around by 2 cyclones that hit during the last season within 9 months of each other. We met people that had been diving in the area for years and they all tell the same sad story, a large area of the reef is gone, same as a lot of the fish, the damage to the surrounding reef will take years to recover.

Among these is the famous Cod Hole, the huge friendly potato cods are still there and they still come to check you out, but the numbers have diminished, there is no other fish and a big part of the reef in this diving site is all dead.  In the island, communications have suffered as well and it is now very limited, little internet and no phone coverage except by the facilities kindly provided by the Research Station which is located in the western side of the island.

Lizard Island Research Station

We frequently visited the Research Station and found the people there lovely and very helpful. They have a fantastic library were you can borrow books or read on site about their research. It is the only place on the island were cruisers can get phone and internet coverage. If the wind allows is a 10 minutes’ dinghy ride from Watson Bay, if the wind is blowing more than 20 knots, it is a 45 minutes’ walk each way, along a not so very friendly track.  
Established by the Australian Museum in 1973, the Lizard Island Research Station is dedicated to supporting research into all aspects of the Great Barrier Reef. Very interesting tours of the research station are available, usually on Mondays when there are enough people interested in attending.

The Research Station with a curious lizard visiting

Watson Bay 

The anchorage in Watson Bay is beautiful and very secure even in the strong trade winds. The dinghy access to the beach is quite easy but a lot of care must be taken to anchor well the dinghy at the beach as many have been lost carried away by tides and wind.  The beach is also exceptional for beaching catamarans; we’ve never seen so many catamarans beached in any one place.


Even if we didn’t feel like leaving our secure anchorage in Watson Bay, there was plenty to do and we had a great time with all our visiting friends.

Walking around, in search for the blue lagoon
The Blue Lagoon - Spectacular 

Our first guest was Joan, already a veteran crew after spending some time with us 2 years ago in Noumea. This time was no different as we enjoyed her company immensely. She had the roughest time of all as the wind was blowing 30 kn during her stay. Nevertheless we did the Research Station tour, the Blue Lagoon track and, she was brave enough to snorkel twice at the Clam Garden.

Around with Joan, the clam garden, the wind and the Blue Lagoon

The same flight that loaded Joan to take her back to civilization unloaded our next guests, Cindy and Adrian.  They arrived with a lot of fresh supplies from the market in Cairns, which was very nice as we were already running quite low. They were a very enthusiastic company to the many snorkelling and walking tours. With them Oscar was able to climb Cook’s Look , an arduous climb that I didn’t dare to try. You can see the amazing pictures from this adventure. From this lookout Captain Cook was able to chart a course through the maze of reefs that surrounds this area.

Here is a good description of the trail:

Cooks Look—2.25 km return (2.5 hrs) Grade: very difficult

From Watsons Bay beach, near the camping area a very steep, unformed track leads to the summit (359 m) at Cooks Look. This lookout offers wide-ranging views over the surrounding reefs and island group. The track surface varies from decomposed granite to sloping granite slabs, with rough-hewn steps in some places. This walk is suitable for very fit and experienced walkers only, due to the rough terrain, loose track surface, hot climate, steep slope and difficult access at the start of the track. Extreme care must be taken.

The pictures from the Cooks Look:

Amazing Watson Bay - The clam garden is the reef behind the green catamaran. Zenitude in the middle of the picture. 
The very exclusive resort in Lizard 
Beyond Watson Bay
Adrian, enjoying the view 
Just like Captain Cook, from this top you can spot the reef and the way out to open seas
Back down to sea level, Cindy and Andrew snorkel the Clam Garden reef

Last Week in Lizard

Lastly our dear Irish friends Caroline and Benny arrived to spend three days with us and then have a pampering time at the resort for another couple of days. As always, Oscar managed very well provisioning in Cairns before we left, and feeding the crew was not a problem and everybody was fantastic at rationing water.

Benny and Caroline just arrived
Benny and Caroline - Relaxing times

Benny and Oscar

Attempting the Cod Hole

The time for us to leave Lizard was approaching and we couldn’t believe we were going to go without visiting the Cod Hole. We had also Benny and Caroline on board and wanted to take them snorkelling to the outer reef, so when the wind dropped to 15 knots we decided to give it a try. 

It was unusually calm in Watson Bay and we lifted anchor wondering how it would be out there. Quite soon we found out. Head winds to 20 knots, exactly from the east, the direction we wanted to go. We were crawling and bumping, it was obvious it would take many painful hours to get there and so, in less than an hour we gave up and turned around. Now downwind, it was a smooth and fast sail. On the way back we stopped at beautiful Mermaid Cove, where there are a couple of moorings and spent a lovely and calm day snorkelling and relaxing before heading back to Watson Bay for the night.


Managing Fresh Water 

It’s worth to mention our strategy for managing fresh water. We decided to leave the smaller tank (250 litres) untouched saving water for our trip back to the continent and use only the larger tank (400 litres) while in Lizard. We replenished the tank several times with jerry cans loaded from the fresh water pump in the island. An arduous task with the 280 meters walk over sand to reach the pump, which was great on the way to the pump,  with empty jerry cans, but quite hard on the way back with the heavy load. 

We needed to manage the load with several trips back and forth the dinghy. I should say we had plenty of help, first with Adrian that did a lot of the hard pumping/walking work and other times with the people walking by and taking pity on us by carrying one of the many jerry cans. 

We did not use this water for cooking, as we had in store lots of 20 litres containers for cooking and drinking, but nevertheless we added a bit of chlorine to the water from the pump before pouring it into the tank. They say you can use the water from the pump for drinking if you boil it first. 

Obviously, the strategy, the effort and the help worked as we were never short of fresh water.

Time to Leave

Finally the forecast showed a couple of days of northerlies, as you would expect for that time of the year and we decided to take it to start heading back south. We knew it was going to be an exodus as most of the yachts at anchor were waiting for this window. Everybody that afternoon showed up at the usual 5 PM drinks on the beach with the normal excitement of those getting ready to leave and the melancholic farewells to the many friends we had made during our long stay. Among them were Mark and Shannon from Axis Mundis, friends since last year when we met at Magnetic Island keeping in touch and bumping onto each other all along the way. It was good to spend time with them again.   

Axis Mundi

Quite early the next morning we raised anchor and left Lizard Island behind, it was our most northerly destination so far in Australia. No doubt it was worth the effort to come here, but we also have no doubts this is not a place we'd like to visit again, just too much wind for comfort. On the other hand, as with most sailing plans, you never really know.